In terms of Holy Grail importance it ranks below footage from their first Scandinavian tour in 1968 or that final show in Berlin 12 years later, but film of Led Zeppelin’s renowned performance at the Bath Festival on the evening of Sunday, June 28, 1970, synced with sound for the first time, was briefly available last week for all to see on YouTube.
Not even walking Led Zeppelin encyclopaedia Dave Lewis can explain why it appeared on Thursday night of last week, only to be taken down 24 hours later. “Fans were awestruck across the globe,” says Dave, never one to play down a story about the group that has defined his life since he first heard them in 1969. “To see vivid moving colour images of this legendary Zep appearance was truly astonishing.”
Dave let me know about this discovery late on Thursday night, drawing my attention to it with a link to the video that revealed John Paul Jones to be wearing white trousers with zoo animals printed on them. I didn’t notice this from the press pit where that day I observed Led Zep in action for the first time ever, headlining the first big rock festival I covered for Melody Maker.
The clip, which lasted about 10 minutes, featured snippets of ‘Immigrant Song’, ‘Dazed And Confused’, ‘Bring It On Home’ and ‘Thank You’, which had evidently been synchronised, probably by a fan, with a bootleg tape. To state that the group was on fire is no exaggeration, for this was the first huge gig they’d played in the UK and all four doubtless knew how crucial it was to make as good an impression at home as they had been doing in America over the past 18 months.
I remember it well, and have written about their set elsewhere on Just Backdated. Led Zeppelin simply exploded on that stage, blowing away all the other acts, and not just because they seemed one hell of a lot louder than everyone else. Hyper confident, they announced their arrival by playing ‘Immigrant Song’ – which I inadvertently called ‘Immigration Song’ in my review – which was yet to be released, its staccato riff reverberating over a crowd believed to be in the region of 150,000. Two and half hours later, pumped up to the eyeballs, they left the stage after a slew of encores that included seat-of-the-pants improvisations of many of their favourite rock’n’roll songs from the fifties.
John Bonham, slimmer and probably fitter than he was in later years, is inexhaustible. Robert Plant dances around as if he’s barefoot on a hotplate, and even Jones, steady as ever on his Jazz Bass, moves about much more than he would later. Dressed in his yokel outfit, Jimmy Page is the least visible, somehow avoiding the cameras as he switches from hard chord grunge to delicate passages on his Les Paul guitar.
On a separate clip there are scenes of the group wandering around amidst the cars and caravans in the backstage area. Page is seen with girlfriend Charlotte Martin, and John Paul Jones escorts his friend Julie Felix. Donovan, LZ manager Peter Grant, tour manager Richard Cole and soundman Clive Coulson are also briefly seen. On that Sunday afternoon 52 years ago backstage at Bath was unquestionably the coolest place on earth, and I was there too, albeit not, alas, caught on camera.
The stage footage is over with pretty quick, and when I tried to access it again the following day was greeted with the message, “This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Kinolibrary”, which the internet tells me is an ‘independent agency representing remarkable and rare archive footage from around the world’.
“This YouTube footage has been made available by the Kinolibrary film archive company,” says Dave Lewis. “By presenting silent footage they will have avoided any copyright issues with the music of Led Zeppelin which is owned by Warners. The synced footage matched to the clip independently might have a problem with this.”
Dave confirms that the film was made by the late Peter Whitehead – famous for his films of The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd and the January 9, 1970, Led Zeppelin concert at the Royal Albert Hall. Dave was present in May 2017 at a screening of the Albert Hall footage and observed bits of Led Zep memorabilia on display. “Part of that was a vintage film label marked ‘Led Zeppelin at Bath’,” he recalls. “I was aware that Peter Whitehead had shot film of the band at the Bath Festival in 1970 and here was tangible evidence.”
Present at this event was Steve Chibnall, Professor of British Cinema and Director of Cinema and Television History Research Centre at Leicester University, who revealed he had viewed the 20 to 30-minute silent colour footage. He hoped one day it could be restored and see the light of day. He told Dave: “The problem, according to Peter Whitehead, was he was stuck in traffic and had trouble getting to Bath so he arrived late. He was supposed to film the band arriving by helicopter and he missed that.
“And then when Led Zeppelin played, they played in the dark and there was insufficient stage lighting for his cameras. He reckoned that the footage, the live footage, was not usable … [but]… it can be restored now.
“It looks beautiful to me and I think it was recorded. The band probably have a recording of it. Peter was supposed to do interviews with the band members as well, but I don’t think that ever happened. But certainly, there is 20 or 30 minutes of footage from Bath.”
Although the synced footage has been withdrawn, three silent colour clips of Zep at Bath in 1970, shot in 16mm, and two backstage/audience clips, can be readily viewed now via the Kinolibary YouTube channel. “Watch them and be amazed,” adds Dave.